Below is a list of Colorado wilderness areas. General locations and descriptive summaries* are included. Locations correspond to a 3x3 "tic-tac-toe" partition of the state. Colorado has over 3.2 million acres of designated wilderness with another 170,000+ under similar protection.
Snow, snow-melt and frozen lakes are factors into mid-summer in Colorado's high country. In addition, spawning trout may not be receptive to fishing. Altitude is the main factor.
Colorado snow levels normally start at 9000' on Memorial Day weekend. The snow recedes to 10,000' by June 15th and 11,000' by July 4th. Open, park-like areas thaw quicker as do south-facing slopes.
|Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is the deepest narrow canyon in America and a recently created national park. Forests of piñon and juniper line the canyon.
The most scenic 12 miles, the inner gorge, has been designated wilderness. The Gunnison River within the park is Gold Medal waters for trout. No maintained trails descend the canyon walls.
Camping is allowed on the canyon bottom. Hiking down to the Gunnison River is strenuous and should not be taken lightly. A backcountry permit is required to hike in the inner-canyon. Poison Ivy is common here on river banks.
Size: 32,950 acres
Elevation: 5,400 to 8,300 feet
Trails: 4 miles
National Forest: Gunnison
Nearest Towns: Montrose, Crawford
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 5 to 6 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 260 to 315 miles
Fly Fishing: Gunnison River
The Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, on the Uncompahgre Plateau, is run by the Bureau of Land Management. It.
is characterized by the Black Ridge which dissects seven
major red rock canyons. The canyons are up to twelve miles long and almost 1000' deep.
This area contains the second largest collection of natural
arches in the country. The Black Ridge Canyons form spectacular
cliffs. This is desert country with few if any fly fishing opportunities.
Size: 75,439 acres
Elevation: 4,700 to 6,800 feet
Trails: 25 miles
National Forest: Gunnison
Nearest Towns: Fruita, Glade Park, Grand Junction, Loma
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 4 to 5.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 255 to 285 miles
Fly Fishing: unknown
East (13,300 feet) and West (13,326 feet) Buffalo Peaks are two domed mountains easily seen from South Park. Visitors are relatively few.
The Buffalo Peaks contain no deep valleys and no lakes. There are many beaver ponds, however. Forests and meadows dominate the wilderness.
Size: 43,410 acres
Elevation: 9,200 to 13,326 feet
Trails: 18 miles
National Forests: Pike, San Isabel
Nearest Towns: Buena Vista
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 2.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 105 to 120 miles
Fly Fishing: beaver ponds, Fourmile Creek, Rich Creek
Byers Peak is contiguous with the Vasquez Peak Wilderness near Winter Park. Both are separated by the Fraser Experimental Forest. The Williams Fork-Ptarmigan Peak roadless area lies due south.
About half of Byers Peak consists of alpine tundra. The Byers Peak Trail traverses the entire length of the wilderness, from Bottle Pass to St. Louis Peak. The trail is mostly above timberline.
Size: 8,913 acres
Elevation: 9,200 to 12,800 feet
Trails: 23 miles
National Forests: Arapaho, Routt
Nearest Towns: Winter Park, Fraser
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 1.5 to 2 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 70 to 85 miles
Fly Fishing: Evelyn Lake, St. Louis Lake, West St. Louis Creek
|Cache la Poudre
The Cache la Poudre has forests of Douglas fir plus lodgepole and ponderosa pine. Two deep canyons dominate the area. The northern wilderness boundary is marked by the main fork of the Cache la Poudre River and Highway 14. The heart of the wilderness surrounds nine miles of the Little South Fork of the Poudre, This area was designated by Congress as a National Wild and Scenic River in 1986.
Hwy 14 parallels the Main Fork of the Cache la Poudre River. The rivers draw many visitors, but the lack of trails makes this one of Colorado's least explored areas. The Mount McConnel Trail extends fort three miles in the north.
Size: 9,238 acres
Elevation: 6,200 to 8,600 feet
Trails: 3 miles
National Forests: Roosevelt
Nearest Towns: Ft Collins, Poudre Park, Rustic
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 2 to 2.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 90 to 105 miles
Fly Fishing: Bennett Creek, Cache La Poudre River
The Collegiate Peaks draws many visitors. Dozens of lakes lie below cirques and more than 40 miles of the Continental Divide traverse the area.
The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness has the highest average elevation of any wilderness in the lower 48 states. Eight peaks over 14,000 feet are found here. Another half-dozen rise over 13,800 feet.
Size: 166,938 acres
Elevation: 8,500 to 14,420 feet
Trails: 105 miles
National Forests: Gunnison, San Isabel, White River
Nearest Towns: Buena Vista, Granite, Nathrop
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 2.5 to 5.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 125 to 250 miles
Fly Fishing: Clear Creek, Hartenstein Lake, Pine Creek, Texas Creek
The Big South Fork of the Cache La Poudre is largely responsible for draining Comanche Peak. It converges with the Little South Fork to form Colorado's only Wild and Scenic River drainage.
Much of the Comanche Peak Wilderness is characterized by tundra slopes that give way to lodgepole forests. Comanche Peak Wilderness is located north of Rocky Mountain National Park in the Mummy Range. The area's few lakes are located in the Browns, Comanche and Emmaline Lake basins.
Size: 66,791 acres
Elevation: 8,000 to 12,702 feet
Trails: 70 miles
National Forests: Roosevelt
Nearest Towns: Estes Park, Kinikinik, Idylwide
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 2.5 to 3.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 115 to 140 miles
Fly Fishing: Emmaline Lake, South Fork Cache la Poudre
|Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument is located in northwest Colorado and northeast Utah. About two-thirds of the park lies in Colorado. This is home for peregrine falcons, bald eagles, razorback suckers, and Colorado pikeminnows.
The Green and Yampa Rivers in Dinosaur National Monument are desert warm-water fisheries.
Size: 210,000 acres
Elevation: 4,700 to 9,006 feet
Trails: 15 miles
National Forests: National Park Service
Nearest Towns: Blue Mountain, Dinosaur, Elk Springs
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 5 to 7 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 280 to 320 miles
Fly Fishing: Green River, Jones Creek, Yampa River
The Eagles Nest's highest peak is 13,534-foot Mount Powell. Most trails dead-end in high valleys and often beside lakes. This is a lush, wet area of jagged ridges above and dense forests below. The creeks merge to form tributaries of the Colorado such as the Piney and Blue rivers. The Eagles Nest Wilderness lies near Vail and is part of the Gore Range.
Size: 132,906 acres.
Elevation: 7,850 to 13,534 feet
Trails: 180 miles
National Forests: Arapaho, White River
Nearest Towns: Vail, Frisco
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 1.5 to 2.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 75 to 115 miles
Fly Fishing: Booth Lake, Deluge Lake, Gore Lake, Piney River
* Many descriptions are derived from The Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas
by John Fielder & Mark Pearson.